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July 27, 2014

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DAILY MEMO: PRESERVATION :

Here today, there tomorrow

In the Las Vegas Valley, saving historic buildings and artifacts often involves moving them

Image

Tiffany Brown

Motor Court Cabin, left, originally in Las Vegas, is now on Heritage Street at the Clark County Museum, which features rescued historic houses from throughout the area.

Las Vegas is always about the next big thing — and a move-it-or-lose-it attitude that pummels the city’s past.

Sometimes we move it. Sometimes we lose it. What’s interesting is when “moving it” means creating another themed attraction by extracting our past from the present and sequestering it.

If preservationists had any sense, they would require developers to replicate today’s buildings and place the doppelganger on the outskirts of town, saving time and money on future historical rescue operations.

A lot of money has been spent on saving the significant works sitting in the popular Neon Boneyard. The rescue of the Stardust sign cost $200,000. Moving the La Concha lobby, one of Las Vegas’ most famous pieces of Googie architecture, from the Strip cost $1.4 million.

Then there is Heritage Street, a tidy tree-lined stretch of gravel road outside the Clark County Museum on Boulder Highway that includes houses and notable buildings from the Las Vegas Valley’s past. Rescued by groups desperate to save Southern Nevada’s disappearing history, the buildings were plunked down in Henderson, restored, decorated and opened to the public. Moving and restoring the homes has come at a hefty price.

The permanent exhibit is a brilliant slice of 20th-century American life, a nice getaway for anyone lamenting the Mediterranean-themed, master-planned communities sprawling across the valley. You can sit on a bench outside the print shop or on the front porch of the Beckley House, a California bungalow built in 1912 for the Beckley family, which owned a clothing store in downtown Las Vegas.

These aren’t replicas. They’re the real deal — filled with authentic furniture, dishes, wall hangings, knickknacks, historical tidbits and recorded music. Each is its own period piece. There is a motor court cabin from the 1930s and the Boulder City Railroad Depot.

Call it a nod to creative preservation in a progressive area.

Themed attractions have made Las Vegas famous. Just when we wondered what would be next, MGM Mirage decides to build the biggest “theme” of all: an urban core on the Strip, an attraction you might say only simulates high-rise living with grocery stores within walking distanced. Eventually, we might tear down CityCenter and replace it with something else, leaving only a whisper of the Stripside urban condo community.

Heritage Street, by comparison, has no such glamour. It doesn’t even have a casino. But it’s a collection that shows where we were and how far we’ve come.

The Neon Boneyard has international fame, but visitors still drive down East Fremont Street to look at the dilapidated auto court motels, many of which have been pillaged.

We lost one of our legendary wedding chapels on the Strip, but the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is helping fund the restoration, along with the State Cultural Commission. Next year is Clark County’s centennial. The chapel and the Railroad Cottage, both on the county museum property, are expected to be restored and displayed by the end of the year.

The Townsite homes, built in the 1940s in Henderson, were meant as temporary housing for war workers. On the other hand, Myron Martin, president of the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation, says the Smith Center for the Performing Arts is being designed and built to last 300 years. Whew. That’s something, at least.

In 20 years preservationists might be concerned with the Eiffel Tower that stood outside Paris Las Vegas during the heyday of hyperthemed casinos.

Preservationist and historian Bob Stoldal says he’s stood before the Bellagio and asked himself, “What is this going to be in 50 years?”

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